Hancock cannot say how many are spreading Covid due to Excel blunder

Andrew Kersley

Jonathan Ashworth has criticised the government’s “incompetence” after the Health Secretary told the Commons that he does not know how many people could be unknowingly spreading Covid due to the Excel blunder.

Matt Hancock made the admission while being grilled on the issue by the Shadow Health Secretary during a parliamentary session of health and social care questions this afternoon.

Ashworth asked: “Given the ONS has today said that deaths have increased for three weeks in a row, given the rising prevalence of the virus, can he understand the upset and anger over the Excel spreadsheet blunder?

“And can he tell us today what he couldn’t tell us yesterday: of the 48,000 contacts – not the index cases, the contacts – how many have been traced, and how many are now isolating?”

The Health Secretary replied: “We have obviously been continuing to contact both the index cases and the contacts. Of course, the total number of contacts depends on how many contacts each index case has…

“That information will, of course, be made available in the normal way when it has been completed, but you can’t know in advance how many contacts there are because you have to do the interviews with the index cases first.”

Ashworth’s questions follow reports that nearly 16,000 coronavirus cases went unpublished in the government’s daily reports and were not passed on to contact tracers last week, due to what the Prime Minister called a “computing issue”.

The Health Secretary told the Commons on Monday that 51% of the missed cases have been contacted but refused to say at the time how many of their potential contacts had been reached.

Ashworth added: “Because of this government’s incompetence, there are potentially thousands of people who have been exposed to the virus who could be wandering around not knowing they were exposed and could be infecting people.”

“And the Health Secretary couldn’t even tell us if they’ve been traced. Ministers urgently need to get a grip of their test and trace service.”

The backlog of infections, which was left out of Public Health England’s daily figures, meant as many as 48,000 people who had been near someone who tested positive for Covid were not contacted and told to self-isolate.

Deputy Labour leader Angela Rayner called on Health Secretary Matt Hancock to resign his post over the recent fiascos in the test and trace system this morning, and said that he should “hang his head in shame” over the mistake.

The Shadow Health Secretary used a Commons speech on Monday to highlight the impact of the error on local infection rates, as both areas currently not under local additional restrictions and others in lockdown saw significant case increases.

According to official figures published on October 4th, Manchester’s weekly case average jumped from 238 per 100,000 people to 295 per 100,000. In rural Newark and Sherwood, the case average rose from 65 per 100,000 people to 73 per 100,000.

Keir Starmer called for an “urgent review into whether these local lockdowns are working in the way intended” last week, as he pointed out that of the 48 areas that have seen additional restrictions, only one has seen those measures removed.

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